Real 'confident' ahead of Clasico
How Will They Line Up: Barcelona vs Real Madrid
Carlo Ancelotti says his Real Madrid players are confident ahead of Saturday’s trip to Barcelona, given their good record at the Camp Nou during Jose Mourinho’s final seasons in charge.
Heading into his first Clasico as Madrid boss, Ancelotti recalled that Mourinho had taken a while to get the measure of Barca, but eventually his side had grown increasingly comfortable and were easy 3-1 winners on their last visit in March’s Copa del Rey semifinal second leg.
“I have seen all the recent Clasicos -- it was my favourite game to watch -- Barcelona against Real Madrid,” Ancelotti said. “Madrid, in the end, improved a lot. They began badly under Mourinho, but then in the last years they have good record. The players will be confident as the last game they played in the Camp Nou, Madrid played a great game. So we are really looking forward to it.”
Mourinho’s Madrid often punished Barcelona with cutting counter-attacks, but his side would look to play a more possession-based game, Ancelotti said.
“The key is to have the personality to play football -- not to just wait and defend,” he said. “Character and personality is that -- to try and play football in Barcelona. The counter-attack you use against Barcelona, because it is difficult to have the ball all the time. But the most important thing is to be positive when we have it, to combine well. If we have space to counter, why not, but that is not our objective.”
Madrid have no new injury concerns for the game, although Ancelotti has a number of selection decisions to make, including whether to start Gareth Bale, what to do with out of form Karim Benzema up front, and if he should return talented young playmaker Isco to the line-up.
Pressed for hints on his likely XI, the former Chelsea boss said it was difficult to say as the press conference was taking place before his side’s final training session.
“I do not know yet,” he said. “I am going to see how he is at training today, and afterwards make the decision on the team. We have had time to recover -- so the training session for today is very important to decide. If they put the press conference after training, I could tell you more.
Ancelotti did say again that summer signing Gareth Bale had put in a lot of effort to improve his fitness in recent weeks and was ready to start if called upon.
“It is true he has not had an easy time, but he has worked hard, and used the international break to improve his fitness,” he said. “In my opinion, and his also, he is ready to play from the beginning.”
Asked if he was concerned about how Neymar had terrorised Alvaro Arbeloa when Brazil beat Spain in last summer’s Confederations Cup final, the Italian coach said he would not be focusing on stopping any one Barca individual.
“We cannot think of a plan to stop Neymar,” Ancelotti said. “If you think of that, then you need a plan to stop [Lionel] Messi, [Alexis] Sanchez, [Andres] Iniesta... We would need a lot of time for such planning... When defending we all need to work together as a team -- and then see what happens.”
Barca go into the game with a three-point advantage in the table, and Ancelotti hailed the work his fellow newcomer to La Liga Gerardo Martino was doing as the new blaugrana coach.
“To coach Barcelona is not easy after Vilanova and Guardiola,” he said. “I believe Martino is doing very good work, as Barca are a very strong and solid team.”
Whatever happens in the game, there was still a long way to go in a three-way La Liga title race, Ancelotti said.
“The game is important of course, but also Atletico will fight for the league until the end,” he said. “It is too early to decide what will happen - it is important, but it will not decide the title.”